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Young children begin to gain confidence to express their lives through writing which is of a creative nature, where imagination dictates the content and spirit of their work. However, as they progress through school they can enter fields where recognised accuracy of expression is not only desirable but a prerequisite for effective communication. These fields include presenting science projects, giving instructions or directions, writing recipes or reproducing factual text. Developing a child’s literary abilities to be able to achieve accuracy in these fields helps them as a writer make sure that they say what they mean to say, and helps their readers gain confidence that the meaning is clear in the information they are reading.

In order to achieve such accuracy I have often heard teachers and parents in all good faith ask children to “check their work”, but then find that they do not know how to do this task effectively. This is particularly frustrating for the person with challenging literacy skills who may check their work to the best of their ability and still not achieve an accurate outcome for their efforts. This can lead to frustration, delays and loss of confidence in ability. So to help children (and their parents and other adults) gain and retain confidence that they can deliver more effective communications here are 6 tips for proofreading written work. Try them all, and then use the ones that work best for you. However, no.1 is compulsory!

1. Make sure you re-read your work before you present it.

Read your work back to yourself slowly and also out loud if you can. Does it make sense? Circle any errors and note down a correction to make.

2. Give your work to someone else to read.

A fresh pair of eyes regularly finds errors that authors did not notice, even after re-reading their own work. This is a popular and invaluable step towards accuracy. Find someone to help you who has a good grasp of the language.

3. Start reading from the end of the text.

Read your sentences, paragraphs and pages in a different order from how you intend to present them. Jumbling up the order often shows up errors that were previously hidden because you were used to seeing everything in the same place.

4. Isolate the text you are checking

Using coloured paper, cover the text above and below the sentence or paragraph you are proof reading in order to minimise interference and distractions from the other parts of the document. Your focus on the work will be improved, increasing your chances of spotting errors.

5. Be prepared to check if you are not sure.

Readers expect information to be accurate, and without accuracy any piece of work may not be as effective as it could be. Reassure your readers that they can trust your work by having a personal rule that you will check any part of your work that you are unsure of.

6. Make sure a reference source is handy.

Making sure information is correct is most accurately accomplished when you have reference sources close at hand for you to consult. Make time for your proof reading tasks when you have easy access to a dictionary, an encyclopedia or other quality reference source you require.

Using the strategies above will help you produce more accurate work more of the time, and help you write those rocket science instruction manuals and cake recipes with new confidence and imagination.


Cameron Halfpenny is Research Director at Halfpenny Development Ltd, a consultancy which helps dyslexic entrepreneurs and business support organisations understand and support dyslexia in business. He has worked as a former college lecturer and academic writer, a comedy writer for BBC TV and BBC Radio Scotland and for three seasons was Poet in Residence for Queen of the South FC. He has edited several short-run books and is a former member of The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and Society for Proofreaders and Editors.